The thing about being an older stay at home mum is that it’s pretty difficult, ironically, to find childcare. No, it’s not just a problem affecting working parents. That’s why many of us try to find a babysitter online.
The Husband works away much of the time and my parents, being in their 80’s do what they can to have the children but, as you know, kids can be quite exhausting and I don’t like to ask them to babysit at night.
I have no other close family nearby to call upon so if the Husband and I do want to escape for a quiet child-free meal or a date night, finding a great babysitter is really important.
This is even more important if it’s your first time hiring a babysitter as you venture back into the adult world after possible months of seclusion surrounded by nappies and Milton.
It’s always tempting, of course, to pay a couple of quid to a teenager to sit for you. I used to earn my pocket money this way when I was about 14 but the children I minded were two doors up from my parents’ house and their parents were friends of the family.
I have never been confident that a teenager would be able to cope in the event of a medical emergency and, in any case, it seems a bit unfair to put them in that situation in the first place.
I cannot find any UK law which is definitive in terms of a legal minimum age for babysitters but here is what the children’s charity, the NSPCC has to say on the subject of leaving children at home alone. They advise that children under 13 should not be left at home alone for long periods and children under 16 should not be put in charge of younger children.
I am sure most parents wouldn’t even consider doing this but as the long summer holidays approach and stressed parents have to juggle work and family, the temptation to leave kids on their own “for a bit” seems to increase.
Whilst there is no minimum age at which UK children can be legally left on their own, the law doesn’t specify how old someone needs to be to babysit either. BUT, if the babysitter is under 16 then you, as a parent, remain legally responsible for your child’s safety.
Be aware too, that the Children and Young Persons Act allows parents in England and Wales to be prosecuted for wilful neglect if they leave a child unsupervised “in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health”. That can cost you a fine or even up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Similar legislation also exists in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
It also turns out that there is a whole host of things you need to check before you worry about providing tea, coffee and biscuits to your new babysitter or childminder.
Depending on the nature of their employment with you, you need to check their qualifications, insurances and even whether they have a valid driving licence if they are going to be driving your little ones anywhere.
Then there’s the DBS check (for England and Wales). These were previously known as a CRB check (Criminal Records Bureau), but are now known as Disclosure & Barring checks.
These provide information about whether an individual has a criminal conviction or has been charged with a criminal conviction which has now expired. Anyone who works with children should have one so it’s one of the first things you should be asking to see from your prospective babysitter.
So where do you find a suitably qualified babysitter and how do you vet them?
A great way to find a suitable babysitter is to use a service such as Childcare.co.uk which is the UK’s largest online community of parents, childcare providers, schools and private tutors.
I have been a member of their service and have used this successfully a couple of times to find good babysitters close to me.
Basically, their service allows parents to search for local childcare services such as babysitters, registered childminders, nannies, private tutors and nurseries using their postcode search facility.
This gives you an idea of how close the childcare provider is to your home and you can then read the childcare provider’s individual profile to find out more about them.
As a member, you can also post a ‘job’ – a brief post about your requirements – to which interested babysitters can respond. They can email you or telephone you if you have left your number in your ‘job post’.
You can register for free and add a profile advertising your childcare/tutor requirements.
Here’s an excerpt from my profile to give you an idea.
You choose whether to be a free member or whether to pay for Gold Membership.
As a free member, you can read and reply to messages that have been sent to you from gold members. You can also send messages to gold members and view their direct contact details. As a free member, however, you have to wait for a response to your profile whilst Gold Membership allows you to contact childcare providers immediately using their secure private messaging system.
Gold members can also receive messages from free members and see their direct contact details if they have chosen to add these (email and telephone number).
Gold membership comes with a raft of other benefits such as 30 minutes free legal advice on childcare and family issues, access to 100 free online training courses, online access to Creative Steps magazine and free Tastecard membership.
Currently, the fee for Gold Membership is £24.99 per month or £129.99 per year.
There are no booking or agency fees and you pay your babysitter directly. You will find an indication of their hourly rates in their profile.
You can also check to see if parents have written reviews for their childcare providers and tutors.
If there is any downside to paying for Gold Membership, it is that once you have found your babysitter or childcare provider you may find that you don’t use the service again until you need another one. It is easy to find that 6 months have passed and you haven’t visited the site.
BUT, in terms of being able to find a childcare provider quickly, Childcare.co.uk is excellent. It just depends whether you feel you will make full use of the extra benefits Gold membership provides. You may find free membership suffices.
Once you have found your sitter, however, be aware that it is your responsibility to interview them and to thoroughly check their qualifications – for example, request references and a copy of their DBS check.
This means you will still need to set aside some time to meet them. I would never dream of letting someone who has never met my children babysit them!
So you will need to be organised and, if possible, start searching for your childcare well in advance of your special event. This is a bit of a pain if you just want to sneak off to a quiet country pub with your husband but it has to be done.
You will find lots of helpful information, including a checklist to work your way through on Childcare.co.uk’s site.
To be frank, when there is a resource such as this to guide you through the increasingly complex maze of regulations surrounding hiring a trusted childcare provider, not using a site like this is simply not worth the risk.
Yes, you still have to do much of the work such as telephoning the babysitter’s referees to double-check references or checking that your prospective childminder has a valid Paediatric First Aid certificate but when it comes to your children’s safety is there such as thing as too much work?
You may well find your ideal babysitter is just a mile away.
Find out more at Childcare.co.uk.